Real responses to real-life questions
Nonprofit experts Gary G. Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, have teamed up to create MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
I work in the mental health field and have a problem with my coworker — we'll call him Don. While Don seems to behave appropriately with clients (as far as I can tell), he nonetheless makes negative comments about minority groups. This generally happens over a few drinks after work. In the office, he’s politically correct; out of the office, he’s an out and proud racist.
I have a hard time believing Don’s real attitudes don’t leak out when working with clients. For instance, we serve many refugees from all over the world. Yet he recently complained to me that “these immigrants are taking over my once nice apartment building and the hallways stink of curry.” These remarks make me sick and I’ve told him so. He just laughs and says I’m too sensitive.
FYI: Don always receives top reviews for his job performance from a supervisor who never spends any social time with his employees.
Am I crazy or what? Why doesn’t anyone else ever call him out on his bigotry? I’d like to share these sorts of remarks with his boss, but Don will just deny it.
What to do?
Gary says ...
I am of the thought that you are not your brother’s keeper. Even though you are highly offended by your co-worker’s opinions and apparent racism and bigotry, you really don’t have a role to play in how this affects the workplace overall. As you stated, his personal opinions do not seem to be impacting his daily work or his ability to “get along” with fellow employees, clients or others. You certainly have the right to tell this person how you feel personally and to be clear about how much you deplore this behavior when he is around you. Tell him to stop it in no uncertain terms.
Perhaps an approach that may work is to speak with your organization’s leadership and encourage them to offer cultural awareness training for the entire team. With this approach, you are not singling out one individual and allowing for everyone to receive this valuable training. Who knows, this may touch a nerve with your colleague, and have him rethink some of the things he says and does.
Kathryn says ...
Globally, as well as in our own backyard, this has never been a more important subject for all people, working in nonprofits or otherwise. Based on a number of recent incidents, the dream of an inclusive, civil society seems more remote than ever before.
There are respected experts who tell us that we all carry some sort of implicit bias. I had the privilege of attending a training on unconscious cultural bias offered by Jelani Consulting CEO Kazique Prince, Ph.D. During that seminar, most of my coworkers, including me, discovered some uncomfortable truths about ourselves (and I have a multi-racial and multi-religious circle of close family and friends).
So, getting to the heart of the challenges nonprofits face in establishing a dedication to cultural competency is no simple task.
Kris Kewitsch, E.D. of Charities Review Council, tells us that historically less than 15 percent of their participating organizations initially meet accountability standards for diversity, equity and inclusion. And that we all could use some professional assistance before we can begin the journey towards true inclusiveness.
This may be true of your nonprofit. Instead of singling out one employee, you should suggest to the executive team that the entire organization needs to look carefully at this subject.
It’s easy to identify this one offensive, racist colleague. That said, on a much more silent basis, likely everyone —including you — is carrying around incorrect assumptions and subconscious beliefs regarding groups of individuals, as defined by their race, color, country of origin, age, religious beliefs or other characteristics.
There are many expert consultants who can be engaged to assess your organization, and individual staff members for cultural competency improvements. There are also very affordable toolkits that will not only allow your nonprofit to assess your baseline in this area, but also provide methods to meet diversity, equity and inclusion accountability standards.
It’s admirable that you are considering bringing this subject to light in your nonprofit, because it is both an individual and an organizational issue that has been too long ignored. And keep speaking up, both to your co-worker and anyone else who expresses ignorant or hateful opinions. Silence is complicity and you seem anything but complicit.
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity: Understanding Implicit Bias (2015)
Charities Review Council: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Toolkit
CIPD: Diversity —Learn how to promote equal opportunities and manage diversity and inclusion in the workplace (2017)